Restorative Justice or Criminal Justice? Metal Detectors and the Ulster County Restorative Justice Center

Earlier this year, County Executive Hein obtained authorization and funding from the Ulster County Legislature to build a "Restorative Justice and Community Empowerment Center". This facility will be utilized to administer life altering programs to at-risk youth and show these teenagers a better way, while keeping them out of dangerous adult prisons." Hein imagines a center that is a "center of hope" that can "make all the difference in the world for at-risk youth, providing real hope where before there was none." The Restorative Justice Center is a 2.8 million dollar capital project that will be "combined with additional investments to support data-driven programming designed by a task force of concerned citizens, community leaders, experts in the field, members of our law enforcement, the District Attorney’s office and members of our faith based community. In addition, this facility will provide greater community access to enhanced supports like job training and meaningful employment opportunities, all of which are proven to reduce recidivism, reduce crime, and positively impact the longstanding nightmare of generational poverty" (2018 Ulster County Budget Speech).

This has the potential to be an exciting and transformative project for the youth of Ulster County. That is why it is vitally important to the integrity of the project and the ultimate accomplishment of the stated goals that the model we pursue in Ulster County not be one that violates the core philosophy of Restorative Justice. Executive Hein is heavily considering the use of metal detectors at the entrance of this new facility for youth. This is a grave error; Metal detectors are not a restorative justice practice and have no place in a facility that purports to be a Restorative Justice and Community Empowerment Center. At his request, we sent him this data-driven report to to explain why. 


On the Use of Metal Detectors in a Restorative Justice Center

Cassandra Burke

Director of Research and Policy, Rise Up Kingston

We know, both from FOIL requests of law enforcement and available disciplinary data from school districts, that there is a racial and economic disparity in the composition of juveniles who will be utilizing the Restorative Justice Center and it’s programming. One question we must ask when considering the use of metal detectors in such a facility intending to divert youthful offenders from the adult criminal justice system is “Will the use of metal detectors in this facility exacerbate the underlying problem of the school-to-prison pipeline?” Restorative justice research and data is clear on the answer here: Yes.

A recent study titled, “Student Surveillance, Racial Inequalities, and Implicit Racial Bias” completed by Jason P. Nance, an associate professor of law at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, reveals that schools serving primarily students of color are more likely to rely on more intense surveillance measures than other schools. Further, the empirical evidence suggests that these racial disparities may not be justified by legitimate safety concerns. He then turns to a discussion of the role that implicit racial bias may have in school officials’ decisions to rely on intense surveillance methods.

“Empirical evidence suggests that over-reliance on strict security measures may harm students’ interests in at least two major ways. The first way is that over-reliance on these measures may contribute to poor learning environments that lead to poor student outcomes. Education policy experts understand that trust and cooperation among members of the school community are fundamental to positive learning outcomes, school safety, and healthy learning climates.Optimal learning conditions for students include experiencing positive relationships with teachers and other students, being treated fairly and with kindness and respect, feeling a sense of belonging in the school community, and having a positive self-image” (Nance, 2017).

These conditions that are most conducive to fostering growth and change in young minds are made much more difficult to produce when upon entering a purported “restorative justice” center, they are immediately faced with the tools and props of the criminal justice system and they are criminalized simply for being in the building. The use of extreme safety measures in schools and other learning environments disrupt feelings of trust, cooperation, and respect among members of the community by sending a clear signal to young people that they are dangerous, violent, and prone to illegal activity. Is this the message the Restorative Justice Center wants to send to its young charges?

There is also the question of whether or not the use of metal detectors is philosophically aligned with the concepts and goals of restorative justice itself. The practices and approaches of restorative justice are centered around four key values; “Encounter: creating opportunities for victims, offenders (wrongdoers), their families and community members who want to do so to meet to discuss the crime (incident) and its impact on them, Amends: expecting wrongdoers to take steps to repair the harm they have caused, Reintegration: seeking to restore victims and offenders to wholeness, to become contributing members of society, and Inclusion: providing opportunities for parties with a stake in a specific crime or incident to participate in its resolution” (Restorative Practices International).

To address and repair the harm that was done and move toward healing and integration for both victims and those who have committed crimes, many different tools and tactics are used, including victim – offender mediation, conferencing (pre and post sentencing, pre-release), family group conferencing, family group decision making, restorative dialogue, classroom conferencing, formal conferences, and more. Neither the underlying concepts and principles of restorative justice nor the techniques utilized by practitioners are aligned with the use of metal detectors in a Restorative Justice Center.

In fact, a joint report titled Safety with Dignity; Alternatives to the Over-Policing of Schools conducted by researchers at the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University was published in 2008. In the report, researchers examined a selection of NYC public schools that were successfully maintaining a safe environment while simultaneously maintaining a nurturing quality. It explored the methods they used and made recommendations to the NYC DOE (Dept of Education) to replicate the successes seen in the schools evaluated.

The very first recommendation made to the DOE was to strongly discourage the use of metal detectors in schools, and then only with full community input and approval, and only for a limited time in response to a credible, visible threat. The fourth recommendation was for the DOE to mandate trainings in restorative justice practices for all staff and to implement them in all city schools  ( That these two sets of tools are mutually exclusive was taken as a given. Restorative justice and the use of metal detectors are simply not compatible.

When considering the use of metal detectors in a learning environment such as the Restorative Justice Center, another question to ask is one of efficacy; does the use of metal detectors make students and staff safer? In a 2016 study commissioned by the National Institute of Justice (Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice) and conducted by the RAND Corporation Justice Policy Program reveals that,  

“A review of 15 years of research concluded that metal detectors have no apparent effect on reducing injuries, deaths, or threats of violence on school grounds (Hankin, Hertz, and Simon, 2011). Moreover, these technologies cannot distinguish between different objects made of metal (e.g., other items in a school bag)—such determinations must be made by trained employees. Metal detectors and X-ray machines may be most helpful for and accepted by stakeholders at schools where students bring knives or guns to school and school-related events. Concerns about the use of these technologies in schools include students being late to or missing classes because of long lines, infringing on students’ rights (e.g., racial discrimination), privacy, moving violence off school grounds, and creating a prison-like atmosphere (Gastic, 2011).”

Furthermore, two expert panels were gathered by the RAND corporation research team to identify, rate and rank school safety needs comprised of a diverse selection of  researchers, school principals, professional organizations, school safety consultants, school district administrators who are responsible for district safety initiatives, and school safety journalists. Their conclusions were that although metal detectors and X-rays were deemed as “somewhat appropriate” for addressing the more frequent forms of violence by both the urban and suburban/rural panel, only urban panel members felt that it was somewhat appropriate for addressing more severe forms of violence (e.g., mass shooting, kidnapping, rape). (Schwartz, H. et al, 2016).

“Although some urban panelists felt that it was essential, the majority of panelists and interviewees who spoke about this technology expressed negative views about its efficacy, cost, and forbidding appearance. Praise included that parents and often staff liked having it in place, if only for the sense of safety it imbued. Criticisms included low rates of accuracy in detection of weapons, the high cost of the equipment and the labor especially when there are multiple entrances and exits, and the false sense of security” (Schwartz, H. et al, 2016).


Nance, Jason P., Student Surveillance, Racial Inequalities, and Implicit Racial Bias (August 27, 2016). 66 Emory Law Journal 765 (2017); University of Florida Levin College of Law Research Paper No. 16-30. Available at SSRN:

Schwartz, Heather L., Rajeev Ramchand, Dionne Barnes-Proby, Sean Grant, Brian A. Jackson, Kristin J. Leuschner, Mauri Matsuda, and Jessica Saunders, The Role of Technology in Improving K–12 School Safety. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2016. Also available in print form.

“What is Restorative Justice?”. Restorative Practices International, 2012. Web. 23 July 2018.

Ofer, Udi, Angela Jones, Johanna Miller, Deiyna Phenix, Tara Bahl, Christina Mokhtar, and Chase Madar. "Safety With Dignity; Alternatives to the Over-Policing of Schools." NYCLU, July 2009. Web. 23 July 2018.


2018 Ulster County Budget Speech-( 

Cassandra Burke